More real drawing

First, let me say that when it comes to graphic art, I care more about the end result than I do about the tools. Some people are really down on 3D artists… as if that isn’t really art. Come on! Like, does it not count as book design if you use InDesign instead of manually placing lead type? But anyway, while 3D has become a big part of my work flow and I don’t see that changing, I am more and more enjoying drawing things with a pen (or, more accurately, using a stylus on my iPad). One of the challenges of modeling comic panels in 3D is it is very difficult to create focus. Like, if you look at most 3D art, the artist has created the entire scene in there. While most comic art has a few aspects of a frame drawn in detail and the rest is kind of muted. Creating that muted effect is very difficult in 3D. So, I’ve been doing some where where the 3D is more like a story board than the actual art. And then I draw the images based on my screen renders.

This format is mostly going into an upcoming super hero book right now. Yes, I have too many projects going at once. I’m really excited about this super hero book and wanted to share with you all one of the panels. I’ll probably force more on you in the future.

Nanowrimo

I’m doing NaNoWrimo this year. National Novel Writing Month, if you haven’t heard of it. This will be my fourth year of attempting to write a novel in the month of November. I have yet to actually complete one, though I did my my 50,000 words quota in 2009. In 2010, I failed because I was on the road. Learned that I need to write in a “safe” place to write consistently. It was like each time I sat down to write I had to go through the whole “get in the zone” thing all over again. Gave up at around 15,000 words. In 2011 I failed because I hadn’t really figured out what was going to happen in the novel. Plot holes became walls to development of the story. Learned that I need to fully understand my story before I jump into the writing part of it. Finished the month at about 30,000 words.

This year, I was going to revisit my failed 2011 effort. I’ve been working the last few months trying to rethink the story (which has been in my head in one form or another since I was about eight years old). Had substantially rethought the flow of the story. Realized that the previous effort had failed because I hadn’t given the protagonists a clear goal. Sometimes the reader needs to explicitly understand what the main characters think they’re trying to do in order to go along with them for the ride. Not always, but this time I think. Anyway, I had it all worked out except for some third act action sequences, when another backburner project jumped into the front burner of my mind.

That’s how it goes sometimes.

I have been reading a lot of the old pulp novels that have become public domain. Jules Verne, HG Wells, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burrows, Arthur Conan Doyle, etc. Been thinking what a cool thing it would be to create an iconic character which would stand the test of time, like a Conan, a Sherlock Holmes, or a John Carter. I was remembering a character I had made up well over twenty years ago when I was in high school that I’d always liked, but thought he wasn’t really original enough. I brought him back as a Neverwinter Nights character when my wife and I were playing the game a few years ago. She pronounced him my “sexiest” character.

While I was working on my notes for my official novel, she saw a drawing I had done of this old character on my desktop and said she was really excited to see what I would do with this character. I noted that I had an outline for a trilogy which featured the character.

A complete trilogy. All mapped out. No third act holes.

So, I changed my focus.

Wrote five thousand words in the last two days.

Here’s that picture. Yes, this will eventually be a graphic novel. And it will be a lot better than Melandra’s Galaxy. Because I will be better at creating by the time I get around to really drawing it.

My workflow

Someone asked me recently about my method for creating comics. Until I answered, I didn’t realize how crazy it all is.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Each chapter is drafted in a program called Scrivener. I draft inconsistently. Sometimes, I say what I want to have happen in each page, then I figure out the text later. Sometimes the words are important, so I write them then figure out how to fit them on the page later. The important thing is bringing a coherent vision to the chapter so that I don’t do a lot of unneeded work.
  2. Each page is then “storyboarded” in a program called ComicLife Magiq, a program which has unfortunately been discontinued. Regularly, I find I have tried to fit too many words onto the page. Seeing the text and panels together, even without any other art, allows me to imagine how the art will fit (or whether it will). Usually, I wind up cutting out a lot of the text I wrote in step one as I put together step two. One of the challenges of comics: in a novel, you can have characters just talk to each other for 20 pages, but comics have to have motion, action; rarely, do characters chat for more than a page or two… and you still have to fit what they say around the art.
  3. Each panel is done in Daz Studio. I was using version 3; just recently upgraded to 4.5 Pro. You might be wondering if doing my work in a 3D render program saves me time over drawing. The answer would be no. Still, I prefer the 3D for a number of reasons: a) if a drawing comes out poorly, or if I have to change the framing, I have to redo it from scratch while in 3D, I can just shift a few things around and render again, b) many panels are just camera changes so I can frequently reuse set ups, c) by building my characters in a program, I can ensure that they always look like I designed them, d) the most important: I like the end result better than if I were to have drawn things from scratch.
  4. The rendered panels are dropped into ComicLife so I can make sure everything looks right before I finalize the artwork. Often, I realize that a transition doesn’t make sense or I’ve tried to fit too much into a panel. Then I can go back and re-render some things before I get to the hard part of the artwork.
  5. The Daz render is passed through a variety of programs depending on which comic I’m working on. Photoshop is almost always used for color correction and for touching up 3D rendering glitches. The art is processed in either (or both) Postworkshop or FilterForge. Lately, I also export my renders to my iPad and use the device as a kind of light table over which I freehand draw the panels. I use ArtStudio for this. It’s a brilliant program and it’s my favorite way to work. I think if ArtStudio had existed 20 years ago, I would have done a lot more comics. A comic I am working on now is almost all hand drawn in ArtStudio, with Postworkshop used to generate cross hatching. Melandra’s Galaxy is pretty much before I discovered ArtStudio, so there is very little influence of this app on my workflow in the stuff you’ve seen on this site so far.
  6. The finalized art is brought back into ComicLife and the pages are exported… direct to jpg for the web, but also to Acrobat for delivery on DriveThruComics.
  7. After it’s all “done,” I sit the project aside for a few days, then I come back and read it all again. Often, I find mistakes or things which just don’t make sense. One of the pleasures of working in an all digital medium is that I can reorganize panels easily, add new things in, etc. Once I think I’ve got it as good as it can be, I send it out to you, the readers.